Many potential learners are put off taking qualifications by their low literacy, numeracy and language abilities (often referred to as skills for life or basic skills). Having not developed them adequately at school they need to do so in further education, often as part of another training programme. Support from providers should include developing these skills to support everyday living, as well as helping learners succeed in their chosen learning.

How does the way you incorporate literacy, numeracy and language into learning and assessment compare with that of the most effective provision seen on inspection?

The following strengths and areas for improvement have been taken from recent inspection reports across the Ofsted Learning and Skills remit.

Common inspection strengths

  • Good development of learners' literacy, numeracy and language skills
  • Good resources to support literacy and numeracy skills
  • Good support for literacy and numeracy
  • Well implemented and effective skills for life strategy

Common inspection areas for improvement

  • Insufficient development of learners' literacy and numeracy skills
  • Inadequate systems to support literacy and numeracy
  • Insufficient range of learning opportunities to support literacy and numeracy skills
  • Inadequate skills for life strategy

If you were given a similar area for improvement bullet at the end of your last inspection, self assessed this area as an area for improvement, or want to work to avoid such areas for improvement, then consider what inspectors judge to be key.

Particularly effective practice identified in inspections includes:

  • Not assuming that learners on higher level courses will not have support needs.
  • Screening all learners in order to ensure that their support needs are identified. There are many examples of learners on higher level courses requiring support. The wider availability of support to learners at all levels in some providers has helped improve retention and success rates.
  • Identifying learners who need help with literacy, numeracy or language early, so that they can be supported while on a training programme, or referred to an appropriate support programme prior to commencing training.
  • Providing support, including initial assessment and an individual support plan, so that learners are able to fully benefit from their programme. This could mean learners reaching a position where they can progress to another qualification, gain a job, or carry out their job effectively.
  • Making learning in support sessions interesting and relevant by linking it with vocational learning.
  • Using a variety of teaching methods and alternative ways of explaining different concepts.
  • Setting learning objectives for sessions which are detailed and specific.
  • Checking learners' understanding regularly.
  • Using good quality materials.
  • Using technology where appropriate. Some learners can progress well with on-line materials, others (particularly with language) do better in groups.
  • Using trained staff to carry out diagnosis and support for dyslexia (which is often a contributory cause of literacy and numeracy problems).
  • Ensuring staff have the skills and resources to provide the required support, or providing support from an outside organisation.
  • Researching resources thoroughly. There are many good vocationally-linked resources that will benefit particular learners, many are free.
  • Having a skills for life strategy in place that will help you progress to being able to meet the needs of all your potential learners.

Healthcheck questions

Health check

How do you identify learners with literacy, numeracy and language support needs?

How do you link support and the programme of learning?

Are there any gaps in your current staffing and resources that prevent you offering appropriate support?

What can you do to 'fill' these gaps in the short and long-term?

What contacts do you have with specialist partner organisations who could provide specialist support?

How do you ensure that your learning materials are written in clear, plain English?

What vocationally-relevant learning materials do you have that have been written for learners with low literacy and numeracy levels?

Examine your literacy, numeracy and language support (skills for life) strategy to see if it covers the needs of current and potential learners?

What could you do next to improve your provision?

  • Read inspection reports to identify what the best providers are doing in your particular type of provision or area of learning (also check other types of provision as good practice is usually transferable between inspection contexts - adult and community learning, college, DWP, work-based, etc). As well as looking at providers with ‘outstanding’ aspects or monitoring visit reports with judgements of ‘significant progress’, look at providers who are similar to yourself in terms of remit, size and what they offer – Ofsted inspection reports
  • Get a clearer and richer understanding of what you need to do to improve – Learner-centred self-assessment
  • Use downloadable quality-improvement resources to develop your staff team and to focus on actions that will help to improve your provision – Actions for quality improvement
  • Adopt or adapt the best bits of other providers’ work that inspection has identified as being particularly effective – Ofsted good practice database examples
  • Measure just how effective your initial-assessment system is and if your quality-improvement initiatives are working – Data projects
  • Develop a blueprint for initial assessment of your learners – Initial assessment and support
  • Check whether your self-assessment report is fit for purpose – Self-assessment surgery projects
  • Use the guidance developed by Ofsted to know what to expect in order to prepare for inspection, look at the Ofsted inspection handbook for your remit or the inspection toolkit – use the search box if necessary - inspection handbooks and toolkit
  • Use the Excellence Gateway as a first ‘port of call’ when researching areas that you would like to improve. As well as the Ofsted-related area, simple word searches will bring you a variety of information about what others in the learning and skills sector are doing to improve their provision. This is particularly useful for any newer areas that you may wish to research.